Clark Simpson cuts up a log from a diseased spruce that U.S. Forest Service crews recently took down using explosives.

People visiting Ketchikan’s Ward Lake area these days probably hear the sound of chainsaws, and the sound gets louder as you get closer to the campground. The U.S. Forest Service is taking out some potentially dangerous trees around the popular recreation spot, and even used explosives to blow the top off of one.

Sheila Spores, a Forest Service silviculturalist, had been watching that tree for about a decade. She finally decided it needed to come down this year, along with other hazard trees around Ward Lake.

She recently went back the lake, where Developed Recreation Program Manager Clark Simpson has been busy clearing up debris from the spruce.

Spores looked a little surprised when she saw the logs, because at first glance, they appeared to be from a healthy tree. But, Simpson pointed out white fungus marbled through the wood of some other logs.

Sheila Spores points out some conchs growing on a tree at Ward Lake.

The tree had a dead top, which was the first indication of a problem. It later developed other symptoms, namely conchs growing on the side. Spores said that trees, like people, sometimes get sick. Unfortunately, many tree diseases are the result of people.

“You should see where people take their little axe and hack on the side of trees,” she said. “It opens the tree up for susceptibility to rot.”

And why would someone do that? There’s no real answer. It could be bored campers, or people just trying to carve their initials.

Once an infection makes it inside the tree, one of the indicators is a very common sight for Southeast Alaska hikers: Bear bread. You know, those half-circle hunks of fungus?

“When you see bear bread on the side of a tree, that’s the flower of the rot that’s inside the tree,” Spores said. “And there’s different species.  Some species are very detrimental and some are not so bad.”

A big question, though, is: Why blow up the tree? Especially since cutting it would have been a lot simpler. Well, it’s partly for the sake of the lake’s visitors. Spores said people get attached to big trees, especially those around the campgrounds.

“So, some of the things you can do is minimize actually cutting the tree down at the base of it,” she said. “So, try to make it look more natural, or minimize how much of it gets cut.”

An approximately 30-foot section of the base remains, and anyone visiting would have to look up to see that the top was gone. What has become the new top really does look like as though the tree naturally fell over.

Another reason they left the base is that birds have bored nesting holes into the trunk, but

Bird-nest holes are seen in the remaining trunk of a diseased spruce that the U.S. Forest Service recently topped at the Ward Lake campground.

only up to the 30-foot mark. Leaving that much takes care of the danger, and allows birds to continue using it.

There wasn’t much doubt that the tree had to come down. It’s in the middle of the campground, and sits next to a creek. Simpson pointed out where the water is slowly eroding the soil underneath, and that the spruce was listing toward a campsite.

“With the top dead, and the fungus, and leaning over a campsite and being undercut by the creek, it kind of adds up to bad news for the public if they’re camping here,” he said.

Now, the remaining tree trunk is short enough that it’s unlikely to fall over.  Even if it did, though, it won’t hit the campsite.

The tree won’t go to waste. Simpson said the good wood will be milled and used to repair Forest Service cabins, for example. The rest will be cut into firewood for cabins or at the campsite.

Click the link below for a short video clip of the explosion, courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.